How to Cope With Quarantine Fatigue

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As we reach the two-month mark of social distancing and various stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, many people are feeling physically and emotionally drained from what experts have labeled “quarantine fatigue.”

And even though the majority of people recognize the importance of staying indoors, honoring the healthcare workers, and following the recommendations from the CDC or local government, experts are beginning to see some areas where people are pushing the limits and returning to their pre-pandemic ways.

If comparing this experience to a marathon, you could easily say that many of us have “hit the wall.” To cope with this, some people are becoming more relaxed about social distancing and spending more time outdoors or seeing loved ones by socializing “safely,” which may feel problematic at times.

And while some states are slowly entering phase one of reopening, we are nowhere near a “normal” routine. In fact, many experts say that we will never return to a way of life that was exactly as it was before. That’s why now, more than ever, we need to stay the course and fight the urge to loosen up on safety measures that are in place to protect us all.

With that in mind, a lot of people are wondering how they can reboot and find new ways to cope with quarantine fatigue. But before we explore actionable solutions to address quarantine fatigue, we need to understand what it is and why it’s affecting us.

Why We’re Experiencing Quarantine Fatigue

When COVID-19 first appeared, we were focused on staying safe and alive. And now that we’re in the next phase of feeling like there is no end in sight, the focus may seem unclear. So, what shifted for so many people?

Our Fear is Receding

According to Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, for many weeks, people launched themselves head-first into panic mode, making giant changes to their lives with the idea of staying alive. “As terrifying as it has all been for many, these were actionable plans that an individual could take, with a goal in mind, and witness actual change and feel that they accomplished something,” she says.

Now that we have adjusted our lifestyles and implemented protective measures, the immediate terror and urgency of the task are beginning to recede. The actual numbers and the real science are no less concerning, but because we have done some accommodating psychologically to the fear we stop feeling it as intensely.

What that leaves us with is a growing sense of non-productivity, repetitiveness, loss of many things of our old life plus the loss of excitement and newness in our day.

We Miss Human Connection

We also miss and crave contact with other people, especially since we are social creatures. While a few weeks of separation may have felt tolerable (possibly even a welcome change), psychotherapist, Dana Dorfman, Ph.D., says social urges and needs are intensifying and we’re craving more human connection.

Crisis Mode is Hard to Maintain

She also points out that this crisis mode that many of us are operating in is difficult to sustain. “As people’s awareness heightened about the virus, we went into crisis mode, developing a sense of urgency, anxiety, and quick decision making,” she says. However, Dorfman says this physiological state is not sustainable, and eventually, the dust settles, the mind acclimates, and reality sets in — hence, quarantine fatigue.

We all experience quarantine fatigue differently, but one thing’s for sure, having healthy ways to cope is critical for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. With that in mind, here are seven expert tips on how to deal with quarantine fatigue.

Understand the Difference Between Wants and Needs

The first step towards healing, says psychotherapist, Daryl Appleton, LMHC, ED.D., is to understand and acknowledge the difference between wants and needs.

“We need to make sure that our basic needs such as food, water, shelter, exercise, safety, and support are being met before we move to the things we want to do,” says Appleton. “Having a strong foundation rooted in needs can make all the difference in fighting quarantine fatigue,” she adds.

If you’re struggling with meeting your basic needs, reach out for help. Call a friend or family member. Ask a neighbor for help. Contact your doctor. If you are alone and not sure how to find help, call a hotline for support and guidance. Many of them are staffed 24 hours a day.

Explore Your Wants

Once your foundational needs are met, begin to explore your wants. Appleton says to ask yourself: “What would I like to accomplish?” Are there podcasts or books you’d like to flex your intellectual muscles on or different skill sets you would like to cultivate. “Begin to make intentional space for growth in quarantine to help break up the monotony of everyday life — once you are ready for it,” says Appleton.

Just remember, there is no time table or competition to get this done, and some days, it’s just about surviving. That’s why Appleton reminds us “to be kind with yourself as you manage through a time that has no guidebook.”

Maintain a Routine

While this tip may seem obvious, we can all use a gentle reminder that sticking to a routine is important when life is uncertain. Dr. Alexa Mieses, MD, a family physician, says going to sleep and waking at the same hour each day, eating nutritious food, and incorporating physical activity are all healthy ways to fight quarantine fatigue.

When weather permits, getting outdoors to get some sunlight, while still practicing social distancing, can help boost your mood. She also recommends a daily practice of mindfulness with a focus on being present in the moment. “By honing your coping skills, you’re also preparing for what’s on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Mieses.

Acknowledge and Validate Negative Feelings

In our efforts to cope, Dorfman says we may push aside, minimize, or ignore our frustration, sadness, and powerlessness.

“In order to harness these feelings and direct them in productive and adaptive ways, we must acknowledge them to ourselves,” she says. Not only can this provide relief, but it also reduces the power these feelings may have over you.

Once you acknowledge, validate, and accept these feelings, consider sharing with a friend, partner, or professional. This is also an excellent time to practice journaling. Aim to write in a journal daily. Then, at the end of the week, take 15 to 20 minutes to read each entry.

Seek Short-Term Rewards by Setting Manageable Goals

When you set small, manageable goals, you can benefit from short-term rewards, which may help us deal with so many unknowns. “The uncertainty of the situation is anxiety-producing and emotionally taxing and may result in a cumulative feeling of powerlessness and being out of control,” says Dorfman.

Her suggestion? Identify something within your control that provides an immediate sense of accomplishment and purpose. Try a new recipe, clean out a closet, or organize your spice drawer — choose a small manageable goal that has a quick result. “This immediate sense of accomplishment may offset the larger challenges,” she adds.

Practice New Forms of Self Care

We all have our “go-to” forms of self-care that are easy to access and typically results in a feeling of satisfaction. But with extra time, and more unstructured time, and an emphasis on health, Dorfman says this may be an ideal time to experiment with different forms of caring for yourself.

“Consider trying mindfulness meditation, yoga, taking a bath, journaling — all the many activities you’ve read about, and considered, but could not find the time to begin,” she says.

Consider Making Time for Therapy

With the hustle and bustle of life, many people feel they don’t have time for therapy. But Saltz says right now, a lot of us actually do have time for therapy. If in-office visits are not available, consider teletherapy. Many therapists have transitioned to an online or telephone platform that allows patients to access services from their homes. Plus, many therapists are even volunteering their time to help others. “This is a very good time to understand your own unresolved issues, to understand yourself more deeply, and to grow as a person,” she says.

By Sara Lindberg, M.Ed, Reviewed by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS